One of the best marketing books I have ever read is Donald Miller’s Building a StoryBrand. Whether you are a professional marketer, a small business owner, or just starting out with a marketing plan, creating your StoryBrand will change the way you talk about what you do and drive customer engagement through clear effective messaging.
Miller lays out a framework based on Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” narrative structure – but this isn’t just another book touting the hero’s journey. Miller provides a strategic 7-Step framework that is simple and practical and guides the StoryBrand building process.
We’ve seen the success of this framework used as a powerful tool with our Story IQ clients. Not just for web copy, it can be used in marketing materials, blogs, social media posts, email marketing, and case studies. The principles of the StoryBrand structure work across the board.
The Psychology of Stories
One of the key factors to the success of the StoryBrand process is that the advice is timeless, founded on basic human psychology. Our brains are wired for story, and have been since the beginning of time. No matter who we are or where we are, our response to story is universal. Tapping in to the science behind storytelling in a practical step-by-step guide is like finding a gold mine for your brand.
Key to the StoryBrand Process: Your Customer is the Hero
Too many businesses make the mistake of putting themselves in the hero’s position. Your customer needs to be positioned as the hero, while your brand is the helpful guide giving them the tools and guidance they need to succeed.
The Hero’s Journey goes something like this:
A CHARACTER who wants something encounters a PROBLEM before they can get it. At the peak of their despair, a GUIDE steps into their lives gives them a PLAN and CALLS THEM TO ACTION. That action helps them avoid FAILURE and ends in a SUCCESS.
Let’s have a look at the 7-Step StoryBrand Framework based on the Hero’s Journey.
STORYBRAND PRINCIPLE 1: The customer is the hero, not your brand.
Every good story starts with a character that we can relate to. The character has a problem that we understand and we empathise with their need to solve it. Thinking of this within a marketing concept, it’s easy to see how placing the customer as the main character – the hero of the story – draws in the very audience you need. You identify your customer’s problem and set the scene to resolve it, and your potential customers are compelled to follow along to find out how to do it.
To engage your customers you need clarity. The problem must be narrowed down to a single focus in a crisp, concise way followed by the promise of a specific solution. Paint the picture of what their future looks like, whether it’s that they are happier, safer, healthier, smarter – whatever it is that you offer – and then build trust that you can pave the way for them to reach it. Recently we talked about how to do this using the Curiosity Gap.
Has a Problem…
STORYBRAND PRINCIPLE 2: Companies tend to sell solutions to external problems; customers buy solutions to internal problems.
Talking about your customers’ problems in a way that shows you ‘get’ your customers and understand their pain points will develop more trust in your brand than simply trying to sell the solution. Instead of selling a product, transform their lives.
For example, a business that specializes in gathering company data and swiftly generating reports can bore people to tears when trying to sell the service. Instead, illustrating how your reports will save time, identify areas of improvement, increase efficiency and allow their business to grow exponentially speaks to their internal problem. It engages with their pain points and hits the difference between where they are and where they want to be.
In other words, identify the villain. What’s holding them back? The villain can be something external – an obvious physical problem. It can be internal – the frustration generated. Or, it can be philosophical – a story bigger than just the customer. Provide relief by showing how you will guide them to a resolution of all three
And Meets a Guide…
STORYBRAND PRINCIPLE 3: Customers aren’t looking for another hero; they’re looking for a guide.
There’s only one hero of the story – your customer. Your brand is not the fellow hero – it is the beloved and trusted guide supporting their journey. As the guide, empathize with your customer’s problem and establish yourself as the expert with the answers. You can show them what they need to do. Be the Gandalf to their Frodo, the Q to their James Bond. Your customers must trust you to help them take action and know they can rely on you to give them what they need when they need it.
Be careful that you don’t put yourself in the hero position here, rescuing your customers from failure. You must always celebrate the customer as the hero, with your brand providing the tools and knowledge they need to succeed.
Who Gives Them a Plan…
STORYBRAND PRINCIPLE 4: Customers trust a guide who has a plan.
To cement the trust you have worked so hard to develop, you must show that you have a clear plan. Lay out the plan in precise steps so they know exactly what they need to do next. To make your customers comfortable with their decision to follow you as their guide you have to alleviate their feeling of risk.
Build confidence with a solid plan. Keep it simple – three or four steps that make it easy for them. Remove any barriers. As the guide you’ve got to be able to tell them what to do so they can succeed.
And Calls Them to Action…
STORYBRAND PRINCIPLE 5: Customers do not take action unless they are challenged to do so.
Every hero experiences some self-doubt. Can they do it? Are they foolish for trying? Don’t allow your customers to become paralyzed with self-doubt. Challenge them to act, to boldly take the next step.
This principle of the StoryBrand framework is best exemplified with a clear call to action (CTA). Your CTA needs to be straightforward, simple, and repeated. (There are some great tips for writing CTA’s here).
Miller describes two types of CTA’s: transitional and direct. He compares these to asking someone on a date, versus asking them to marry you. The transitional CTA “on-ramps” a customer toward an eventual purchase (the date). The direct CTA instructs a customer to place an order (marry me).
The direct CTA is obvious, but the transitional can be more subtle. Offering free information, free trials, samples, or providing testimonials are a few examples.
That Helps Them Avoid Failure…
STORYBRAND PRINCIPLE 6: Every human being is trying to avoid a tragic ending
Naturally we avoid pain and discomfort. Pointing out potential tragedies and how your clear plan will help your customer avoid them will propel your customers forward. Do this in moderation – no need to fearmonger – but do it regularly at every step of the plan to keep your customer focused and committed.
Communicate what is at stake and potential consequences in order to drive action.
And Ends in a Success…
STORYBRAND PRINCIPLE 7: Never assume people understand how your brand can change their lives. You must tell them!
Lead them to the happy ending. Show what life will look like once their problem is resolved. Let them imagine how much better they will feel. Be specific with what exactly they can hope for. Set the scene around what their success looks like.
Use StoryBrand Strategy to Your Advantage
Putting the StoryBrand framework in action in your business can dramatically change your messaging and the results you see from it. If you’re not using these principles, you’re missing a major audience. I highly recommend reading Building Your StoryBrand to get started on your own journey. Check out Donald Miller’s podcasts and online courses as well.
I’m here to guide you – email me today to book a free session.